Summit Society Spotlight: Lowell Observatory

There are many companies and organizations that enable United Way of Northern Arizona to do the work it does to Step Up for Our Community. From large entities like W.L. Gore & Associates and local governments to businesses with much smaller staffs, each is essential to our mission and we are grateful to all of them.

In the history of the Summit Society, and the creation of UWNA as a whole, Lowell Observatory holds a special place, however. In fact, it was the wife of a Lowell astronomer who helped found the United Way in Flagstaff more than 50 years ago.

Bernice Giclas, wife of astronomer Henry Lee Giclas, made her mark on the community in many ways prior to her death in 2003. She chaired the USO fundraising drive in Flagstaff during World War II, championed the American Red Cross and, in 1966, was on the organizing committee that formed what would become UWNA.

The UWNA Board of Directors at Lowell Observatory

Dr. Bob Millis, who joined the Lowell staff in 1965 and was director from 1989 until 2009, said the annual campaign to support UWNA was a significant event at the observatory each year. The reason – Lowell’s commitment to the greater Flagstaff area.

That commitment continues to this day, with Lowell employees being a important part of our annual workplace campaigns.

“I think the reason the observatory has such a connection with the City is all the support we’ve received over the decades from Flagstaff and that implants in us a responsibility to do our part,” he said. “It’s a two-way street and United Way was always seen as a way we could pay back to the community.”

When Millis was chair of the annual campaign in the early 1990s, he was a driving force behind a new initiative to recognize those individuals who gave at the highest levels in support of UWNA’s mission.

In 1993, Millis, his wife Julie and about 40 other extremely generous supporters became the Charter Members of the new Summit Society.

The July 5, 1993 ad announcing the formation of the Summit Society

The enduring relationship between Lowell Observatory and UWNA developed because, Millis believes, the expertise of UWNA and our strong relationship with agency partners that directs your dollars where they are most needed.

“There are always people who need help in any community, and there are always people who want to help” Millis said. “Any single individual might not be aware of the exact needs in the community. They might not have the time or the know-how to investigate how best to apply the resources they can afford to give. United Way does a very good job of finding those needs, prioritizing them and addressing them effectively.”

Our board recently visited Lowell Observatory, toured its facilities and heard about its plans for the new Astronomy Discovery Center that is scheduled to open in 2023 and will increase the observatory’s public education capacity to more than 250,000 guests per year.

It’s exciting news from one of our longest partners. We look forward to their growth and their continued support in the years to come.